STARTING A NEW OPTOMETRY ASSOCIATION
Associations are formed in order to bring a particular sector together to reach a common goal whether for legislative, educational and/or social reasons. If the country does not have any organized body representing optometry, it may initially take a few committed optometrists in the country to step up to volunteer their time and start the association.
Why is it good to start an Optometry Association?
Growing optometry in a country is best served by one strong professional body that will represent optometrists working in the different sectors (private, public, industry and education). A credible, collective voice with common goals will be able to achieve much more than a number of splinter groups/associations in a country. The association will lobby for the profession to be formally recognized and remain at the forefront of growing the profession of optometry.
As the goal is to represent the interests of the optometrists in the country, it serves a very different role to the optometry regulatory body. However, it is usually the association that advocates for the development of a regulatory body in the respective country.
Setting up the first Board of the association.
- Establishing a strong, well-functioning Board is very important for the success and longevity of the association
- If possible, choose people who are committed, passionate about optometry development and recognized by their professional colleagues
- Select an odd number of people for voting purposes
- Try to include individuals who represent different areas of the industry (private, public, industry and education)
- Select people who have the time (and in some cases, the money) to give to the new association
The 1st step for the new Association Board to take:
- The new board members must define, in detail, the specific purpose of the new association,
- Decide on a name and a logo for the new association. It is usually best to include the profession and country name for a national association eg. Italian Optometry Association or Optometry Association of Chile.
Drafting of the Mission Statement
- Use the purpose of the new association as the starting point
- Incorporate what will be the member benefits into the statement
- Define the Vision of the association in one or two sentences only
- Should be a broad statement to allow for change throughout the years
Deciding on who qualifies for Membership
- Determine the number of optometrists in the country that could be potential members
- Get their contact information to be able to send out information on the association
- The letter inviting other optometrists to join must detail the benefits of becoming a member, what will be the annual fees and a membership application form.
- Some of the benefits that the association may offer includes
- regular association publications,
- a group insurance plan,
- discounted registration fees to certain meeting(s) throughout the year,
- discounted fees on certain products offered through your corporate partners,
- collective lobbying efforts, etc.
Should the Association be Incorporated or not?
- Most associations choose to be incorporated
- Most countries/states require incorporated non-profits to hold an annual meeting and take minutes, as well as follow other guidelines
- It is highly recommended to consult an attorney regarding incorporation, tax-exempt status and other legal obligations
- Once determined, file the association with the relevant government authority to register for taxes etc.
- Ensure that the association is well informed
Define what the Income and Expenses of the Association will be
- Membership Fees – Whether there will be one set cost for all members or different options based on income, size of practice, individual vs. group practice, etc., the fee structure needs to be reflective of the industry
- Non-Dues Income – This could include sponsorships, grants, registration fees, partnerships with industry partners, contributions from Board Members, etc. and is very important to an association’s bottom line since membership numbers will fluctuate from year to year
- Annual Budget – Once the income and expenses are determined, it is imperative to set an annual budget based on the projected income and expenses so the Board and its members know how much money is allotted for each of the activities of the association
Write up the Bylaws of the Association
- The leadership may examine bylaws of other associations to determine how to draft them.
- The Bylaws will define the structure of the association, serve as a guideline for procedures, reflect the image of the association and may be required when applying for tax-exempt status
- You need to include the following in the Bylaws:
- membership categories and qualifications;
- membership benefits and services;
- appointment procedures for board members, their roles, qualifications and terms of office;
- election procedures
- committees that form the structure of the association and their respective terms of reference
- other topics related to the members and board members
What type of Management is best suited for the Association?
- Volunteer Staff – The Board Members would volunteer their time and do everything for the association. May have expenses paid for and receive a per diem for meeting attendance etc.
- Volunteer Staff plus Full-Time Employee(s) – The Board Members would volunteer their time along with the required paid employees working out of a central office paid for by the association
- Stand-Alone Association – A large staff of paid employees working out of a central office paid for by the association
- Association Management Company – Hire an association management company so the association doesn’t have to pay employee benefits and payroll expenses or have the expense of a central office
List of activities that an optometry Association will engage in:
- Support its members in all aspects of professional development
- Provide professional guidance and clinical guidelines
- Raise awareness of the profession with the public, government bodies and ministries
- Advocate the role of the profession in delivering eye person centred eye health care
- Create policies which set out a view as to what should happen or change in the healthcare system
- Set up a billing system to collect dues from members
- Develop relationships with industry to acquire non dues revenue for financial strength of association
- Develop a public relations program to educate the public and other healthcare profession, but can be used for governmental agencies, regulators, and administrators
- Advocate for the profession with all branches of government and all agencies within the government
- Monitor all legislation, policies and regulations in the country watching for any effect it may have on the profession
- Develop and advocate for legislation to push the profession forward
- Comment on any policy or regulation that may affect the profession
- Provide advocacy training programs to educate its members on how to interact and promote any legislation affecting the profession
- Provide materials for individual members to use in office to make more efficient and communicate about the profession both in office and locally
- Develop and run continuing education classes for members as required that have a fee to attend
- Develop and interact with third party payors to monitor and possible input regarding reimbursement concerns, covering procedures performed by profession
- Monitor the government and other healthcare professions for possible appointment opportunities to committees/commissions of individual members
- Work on developing relations with other healthcare professions